Georgia produced one of the best college football running backs of all-time in Herschel Walker. Todd Gurley is the best running back the program has seen since the 1982 Heisman winner. Last season, his running style, along with that of fellow freshman running back Keith Marshall, led to the creation of the catchy nickname "Gurshall," an obvious play off Herschel's name.
While Marshall is a great back, Gurley has proven to be in a different weight class. At 6'1", 232 pounds, he has an NFL body and all of the traits of an elite running back. His size, speed, power and vision are all jaw-dropping. He reminds many folks of the great Walker.
In fact, the hype is so real that Walker commented on Gurley's ability, per Marc Weiszer of the Augusta Chronicle:
He’s an incredible back. He has size and vision. The Georgia fans have something to look forward to with him running the ball like that. There’s a couple of them. That’s what you need to build your program back up.
Georgia hit the jackpot with Gurley, but could he be as great as Walker, who is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, a three-time consensus All-American and one of the best players ever?
It's important to note that Walker was ahead of his time. In the 1980s, running backs like Walker, who was 6'1" and 225 pounds and had world-class speed, were rare. While Gurley is still a great player, backs with his combination of size and speed are more common today. Trent Richardson, Adrian Peterson and Darren McFadden were elite college running backs with similar attributes.
The competition Walker played against was also different. Notre Dame defensive end Scott Zettek, who was a member of the 1980 All-American team, was 6'5", 225 pounds. All-American Alabama linebacker Thomas Boyd was 6'1", 211 pounds.
Today, All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina is 6'6", 274 pounds. Former Missouri All-American defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson stands 6'3" and weighs 294 pounds. That kind of size was unheard of when Walker played.
Walker was one of the first runners with his skill set, and defenses weren't prepared for it. He was stronger, bigger and faster than the rest of his competition. His power allowed him to run over defenders and sometimes drag them down field like it wasn't a big deal. He used his speed to outrun defenses. Nobody was catching him from behind when only green grass was separating him from the end zone.
Gurley is the same way. A thickly built running back shouldn't be fast enough to outrun defensive backs. But Gurley returned a kickoff for a touchdown and had 15 runs of 25 or more yards. None of that would happen if he wasn't fast. Gurley also isn't afraid to lower his shoulder and bounce off contact. He always keeps his legs turning and rarely goes down on initial hit.
Their skill sets are similar. Anybody who was blessed to see both runners could see that. But what about the numbers? Well, that's where things get a little interesting.
Walker rushed for 1,616 yards and 15 touchdowns his first season. Gurley rushed for 1,385 yards and 17 touchdowns. While some would trade the two touchdowns for the extra 231 yards, keep in mind that Walker had 52 more carries (274). He was the workhorse for Georgia in 1980, as there wasn't another running back who had 100 touches. Gurley was splitting playing time with Marshall, who carried the ball 117 times, and Ken Malcome, who ran 57 times.
Taking Gurley's average of 6.24 yards per carry and multiplying it by 274 would produce 1,709 yards. Of course, it's reasonable to assume Gurley's production might have suffered with an increased workload, but it's still a rough estimate of what Gurley could have done if he was the primary ball-carrier. That rushing total would have been the best in the SEC and ninth in the country. It also would have been 93 yards more than Walker's total.
Walker then went on to carry the ball 385 and 335 times the following seasons. Those are numbers Gurley will likely never reach. Marshall will always remain in the picture, and there is too much other talent on the roster to abuse Gurley that way.
However, the efficiency of Gurley is outstanding. His 6.2 yards per carry average topped any season Walker had, and his 117 receiving yards is only 126 yards fewer Walker had in his career.
Gurley also returned seven kickoffs for 243 yards and a touchdown. Walker never contributed on special teams.
As for the competition, Gurley faced four ranked teams. Three were in the Top 10, and two of those, Florida and Alabama, were ranked No. 2 when they played the Bulldogs. Walker squared off against three ranked teams his freshman season. The best team he faced was No. 7 Notre Dame at the end of the season.
Walker is a college football icon and Georgia legend. Gurley is on his way to duplicating that success.